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UI alumnus profiles African American war heroes

BY MADISON BENNETT | FEBRUARY 25, 2011 7:20 AM

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Robert Morris’ goal is to tell the stories that aren’t often told — the stories of forgotten African American war heroes.

As Black History Month comes to a close, approximately 20 people congregated in the IMU Thursday to hear Morris speak about his new book, Black Faces of War: A Legacy of Honor from the American Revolution to Today.

“A lot of people’s story has never been told and will never be told,” the University of Iowa alumnus said. “That’s why I do it — to honor them personally.”

The book uses more than 250 illustrations to tell the stories of African American soldiers who served in the U.S. military during times of war.

“The thing that makes this book so special is the first-person accounts that are in there,” Morris said at the podium, a Kappa Alpha Psi lifetime membership pin decorating his lapel.

Morris’ presentation, which marked the last UI Black History Month event, was “fantastic for this month and for his tour,” said Rachel Gatewood, a multicultural coordinator for the Center for Diversity and Enrichment.

Katherine Betts, assistant director of Diversity Programs and Cultural Centers, said exploring African American experience in the military as part of Black History month would foster “good dialogue” at the UI.

Morris’ military background was an impetus for writing the book. His grandfather and father both served in the military, and his son enlisted in the Air Force and is stationed in Great Britain. But he also has a rich background in African American history.

His mother was the first certified black psychologist in Iowa, and his father helped integrate the dorms at the UI in 1946.

Among the crowd at the IMU was African student Patrick Mburu. The sophomore said reading about Morris’ background enticed him to come.

“Part of it is it being Black History Month, and when I read about him, he is very accomplished,” he said.

When Morris attended the UI, he helped found the Iowa City chapter of the NAACP in 1979 and protested many issues of the time.

“Those were some very turbulent times,” he said. “We raised all kinds of hell.”

The 52-year-old has continued his work in the African-American community, focusing especially on the youth.

As the managing member of the Historic Education Recognition Opportunity, Morris encourages at-risk minority youth to participate in the military and public service.

“We’ve got to take some drastic actions in our own community because we’re literally wiping each other out,” he said.

UI freshman Joe Matson attended the lecture for an Interpretive Literature requirement. He is part of the Army ROTC program at Iowa.

And after hearing Morris speak, Matson anxiously stood in line to talk to the author.

“I’m kind of still in shock after hearing of these stories,” he said. “That’s why I have to go up and thank him.”


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